Turkmenistan Getting More Involved In Northern Afghanistan
Turkmenistan is getting more directly involved in affairs in northern Afghanistan, an area inhabited by ethnic Turkmens, as instability festers on the border between the two countries.
The Turkmenistan government recently invited several local northern Afghanistan officials to Turkmenistan in late June, and gave free medical care to a commander in an ethnic Turkmen paramilitary unit fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, the commander told the Turkmen service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Also visiting Turkmenistan were the head of the border police in a district of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan, other paramilitary commanders, and the head of the highway police in one northern Afghanistan region. It wasn't clear what the other officials were doing in Turkmenistan, but RFE/RL notes that it is rare for Turkmenistan to give visas to ethnic Turkmens from Afghanistan. The paramilitary commander, Emir Allaberen Karya, told RFE/RL that he hoped Ashgabat would "continue to help the Afghan Turkmens." It's not clear what that help has consisted of, but one assumes it is more than the occasional health care junket to Ashgabat.
Karya said it was his first visit to Turkmenistan and that he had been hoping to meet there other commanders of his group, Arbaky, from neighboring regions but that a Taliban attack on his unit had forced him to return to Afghanistan ahead of schedule.
Also in late June, Turkmenistan's foreign minister Rashid Meredov visited northern Afghanistan unannounced, RFE/RL reported. Meredov visited Jowzjan, Faryab, and Balkh provinces where he visited Turkmenistan-financed development projects and met with local leaders. In one part of the visit his convoy hit a mine, though Meredov was apparently unharmed.
All of this is unusual for Turkmenistan, whose foreign policy is officially based on neutrality. But the instability on the Afghanistan border appears to have rattled Ashgabat enough that it has taken a number of unprecedented steps, including asking for military aid from the United States (the status of which is still unknown) and Russia (likewise).
The Turkmen government "wants to have stable borders with Afghanistan, and it looks like they’ve seen the situation degenerate to such an extent that they’re willing to make some sacrifices in the neutrality policy,” said Gennady Rudkevich, a political scientist at Georgia College who studies Central Asia, in a discussion with RFE/RL. But, he added, “I can’t see them going much further without really jeopardizing the whole neutrality policy, which, again, has been what their whole identity is based on for the last 20 years.”
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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